On Tuesday, July 26, I swam ~13 miles across Lake St. Clair with a terrific group of people to help find a cure for cystic fibrosis. If you could donate $1 a mile, $2 a mile, or whatever you can, Rickie, the St. Clair crew and those affected by the disease would be most grateful. If you would like to learn more, please visit Swimming St. Clair
It was a gorgeous day for a swim. We met at the Grosse Pt. Yacht club at 6:45 a.m. and Captain Mike welcomed us on board. We headed out to wait for our jet ski support team near Gull Island. Around 8 a.m. we saw not one, not two, but four jet skis heading towards us from the south. We were thrilled to have such tremendous support from Bill, his wife Diane, and their pals Scott and Sam. This was going to be a good day.
Ric took the plunge first and four of us followed his lead. I wore a yellow swim cap and stayed close to Bill, on a yellow jet ski which I named "Bumblebee." The water temperature at the start was 74 degrees, and the air temp was close to 80 degrees. When we jumped, it was like jumping into a blender. It was quite choppy with southwest winds five to 15 knots. I stuck to the English Channel rules and never touched the jet ski or boat for assistance. My friend tossed my water bottles into me and I swam to them. I did keep a bottle on the jet ski, so in case I got further ahead of the boat, I had some nutrition close by. The plan was for me to stay with Bill and every hour or so the boat and other jet skis would pick up the other swimmers and they would catch up and exchange swimmers. I would swim the whole way and the others would take hour shifts or more.
Around the two or three hour mark, my lower back was really bothering me so I asked for some Motrin on the next boat feed, an hour from then. The wind started to pick up and at times when I raised my right arm for a stroke, it would smack into a wave, and never make a full cycle. So I would humbily put it back and try again. So focused on maintaining my stroke, an hour went by in what seemed like 10 minutes. When it was time for the guys to swap in fresh bodies, I swam over to the boat, and my feeder handed me a green plastic cup. I thought, "yeah, Sportbeans" and tipped back the cup and started chewing. They weren't Sportbeans. Grossed out at the taste, I yelled, "What am I eating? My feeder replied, "You asked for Motrin." Yes I did. Learned something for the next swim... remind swimmer what's in the cup. She wishes she had a camera in her hand, to photograph the tiny orange pieces of Motrin that were stuck to my lips.
At the four hour mark, I was ready to overheat. The water temperature, heading south, was much warmer and the air temperature was nearing the upper 80s. I knew I wasn't taking in enough liquids and I was getting frustrated. The winds picked up again, but around that time, I could finally make out the tower of the Grosse Point Yacht Club
, which looked to be glowing on shore in the distance. We finished our swim for Cystic Fibrosis, just outside the seawall. When we finished the water tempature was a steamy 85 degrees and Rickie asked if he could get in and cool off. He did a few cool cannonballs with a huge grin spread across his face.
Thanks to the navigational support by our jet ski and boat team, we finished this year's swim in six hours. Last year we were in the water for 8 hours and 40 minutes. After the swim, we shared a nice lake view and post-swim meal at Brownie's on the Lake, where we toasted the jet skiers, Captain Mike, and I was toasted for getting the guys to the bar three hours early.
If you would like to learn more or donate, please visit Ric's blog Swimming St. Clair
As I learned in Diana Nyad's book Other Shores (1978)
, one of the first rewards after a marathon swim is to cross over the same course by plane or boat. She said as you sit and quickly cross by boat or plane, you swell with glorious emotional pride to gaze down at the whitecaps you battled for three-fouths of a day. Though a week after my Charity Island
swim, I was still beaming with pride while on a more leisurely trip to the island on Saturday, July 16, aboard the ferryboat "Shirley Ann."
Our captain, Dave, and crew members Jim and Anna, were terrific. The evening started around 4pm with a relaxing one-hour boat ride to Big Charity Island
. We were offered cold drinks and served cheese and crackers. The sea hosts were excellent and we had a wonderful ride. Bob Wiltse, resident and lighthouse home owner, greeted us as we docked. Next, we enjoyed a short walk on a sandy trail and discovered a statue in the forest. Those who did not wish to walk were offered a ride in a giant wagon (reminded me of a hayride). Karen Wiltse welcomed us to her house and let us into her home to use the restrooms or relax with an ice cold glass of lemonade. Those of us on the East Tawas ferryboat went and sat on the deck for Bob's history presentation. Bob shared terrific stories, with an obvious passion for research, that kept the audience interested. He sure did talk fast during the 45 min talk. The lighthouse was built in 1885 and he shared stories from 1885 to present day. The coolest thing was when he showed us some the of rounded rocks and told us they were flint. Those resembled the same rocks that Karen and I saw while swimming close to Charity the weekend before. She picked one that looked like a hockey puck and put it in her wetsuit, before we swam back to shore. Big Charity Island, actually a large outcropping of limestone, is roughly 300 acres with over 3 miles of Lake Huron shoreline and it even has an inland lake. They say you can wade the two miles from Big Charity to 5-acre Little Charity Island.
After the fabulous presentation, we switched places with the Caseville ferryboat passengers, and headed to the porch of the lightkeeper's house for dinner. Seated overlooking the Bay, we ate sauteed tenderloin beef tips or lightly breaded lake perch, crunchy bread, roasted redskin potatoes and a warm slaw salad. After dinner, Karen gave us a tour of her house, including the cool basement, which has sections of original limestone walls. We spent some time exploring the shore and Noah climbed to the top of the lighthouse. Before we left, Karen and I traded new t-shirts. I have a new yellow Charity Island shirt and she has a blue "in pursuit" of the English Channel shirt. When Captain Dave (who was also a dinner chef besides our captain) rang the bell, it was time to head back to the Shirley Ann. We enjoyed a slower, gorgeous sunset cruise with a sliver of strawberry cheesecake and hot coffee. Passengers and crew sang 'Happy Birthday' to another woman and I, who shared the special day.
Looking back at the 16-mile Charity Island Swim
(July 10, 2011), I'm so thankful my wonderful crew (family and friends) kept me energized and spirited to swim somewhere new. I remember when I reached the familiar US Gypsum crib, just 2.5 mi from the lakehouse, thinking that maybe we should just turn around and stay in calmer, more familiar water. I was getting tossed around like a pair of socks tumbling in a dryer and was watching my crew rise and fall like the old Pirate Ship ride in Ontario's (Canada) Boblo Island. Without the courage to lose sight of the shore, I wouldn't have discovered Charity Island
, a "Pure Michigan
Speaking of charity swims, on July 26, I will be swimming 14+ miles across Lake St. Clair from the southeast tip of Gull Island to the Grosse Point Yacht Club with Ric Geyer and the gang from last year, to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Please check in again to see how it went or visit Ric's blog "Swimming St. Clair."
I had never been to Charity Island in Lake Huron until yesterday--when I swam there. On a clear day, we can see the island beyond the US Gypsum crib in Lake Huron south of Tawas City. In fact, as you head north towards Tawas on US-23, you can get a closer view from Au Gres. I had heard tales of people swimming there from Au Gres many years ago, making that a five or six mile swim. So last year, we figured a swim to Charity Island from Tawas City would be roughly 15 miles. This summer they added a boat cruise from East Tawas to Charity Island. For $79, you can experience a terrific boat cruise to Charity Island with snacks and drinks, fish or steak dinner on the island, dessert on your way home during sunset, plus learn a bit about the Island. I started to think that if I just swam to Charity Island it would be a great training swim as my English Channel swim nears. Though not as delectible as steak and fish, I could have a few liquid meals in the Lake, maybe feed a few fish and get a swimmers' eye view of the lighthouse and island--and not to mention, have tales to tell. Where do the tails come in? Keep reading.
We arrived in Tawas late Friday night and I was leaning towards a Sunday swim, so we could have Saturday to make last minute preparations. Looking at the marine forecast, Saturday was definitely a better swimming day if you like calmer water. With winds only 2-6 mph forecast for early Saturday morning, it meant little waves. Sunday morning called for a swim into the SE winds 8-12 mph. After some discussion, we agreed that Sunday's conditions would better prepare me for the unknown and give us more time to pack our bags and relax a bit. Saturday was mostly spent prepping for the swim. I mixed my energy drink in four water bottles, we contacted the Coast Guard (since I was going to be swimming into a shipping lane), warmed and mixed Vaseline with pure lanonlin to prevent chafing, went for a short swim and a two mi dog walk, found time for reading and some jetskiing before going to bed at 8 p.m. I had no trouble falling asleep.
However, it was the reading earlier in the day that presented the biggest threat in my mind for Sunday. I'm currently reading, Wind, Waves, and Sunburn (A Brief History of Marathon Swimming), by Conrad Wennerberg, loaned to me by a fellow Michigan Masters swimmer. That was when I read about Marilyn Bell's 1954 Lake Ontario crossing. It was in her first hour of swimming that she discarded her goggles and shortly after when the first lamprey eel attached itself to her bathing suit. Since she was used to this in her training swims, she simply pinched under its' suckers and plucked the parasite from her suit, like her swim mate, Cliff Lumsden, had taught her. He too, was badgered by the pests on training swims, and once he crushed ones head between his teeth and threw it.
I shouldn't have done it, but I did it anyways. I ran to the computer to Google "lamprey eel-Lake Huron." I remembered reading about how they were problematic in most of the Great Lakes and wondered if they were attracted to light sticks, clipped to a swimmers' suit, say at four in the morning. Just happens I found a study that showed eels were indeed attracted to light. After my Google research session, complete with illustrations of lamprey eels attached to trout, I knew two things were certain. 1- I was bound to have an eery eel encounter and 2- There was absolutely no way I would put an eel in my mouth and bite its head off.
The crew and I awoke at 3 a.m. to the sound of the waves crashing on the sea wall. Each of us were busy scurrying around the house, grabbing some food and loading the car for the marina. Noah, Karen and myself took a less-drowsy Dramamine and by 4 a.m, the crew headed to the Marina, leaving Karen and I at the house. Karen rolled on her wetsuit while I ate a banana and a regular oatmeal packet, along w/ a bottle of energy drink. Next, we attached our lightsticks (see previous blog) with safety pins to the back of our suits (hers on her wetsuit string), and clipped the LED blinking lights to our goggle straps. This was when I ran around saying, "It's great to have a tail--this swim is now called 'A Tail of Two Swimmers." Giddy and ready to swim--yet, hoping I didn't resemble a trout. We stepped into the darknes on the back patio, where we set up the bucket of lanolin-vaseline concoction on some old towels on the lawn. Wearing disposable gloves, all the while our lightsticks were attracting bugs, Karen applied some of the sticky mess to underneath my bathing suit straps and places I was known to chafe in previous swims [learning experiences]. We continued to look out into Lake Huron for the green and white running lights of our escort boat, coming from the Tawas Bay Marina. In the meantime, in anxious nervousness, I must have put my hands on the lanolin six or seven times and ran back into the house to wash.
Karen and I navigated down the sea wall steps cautiously, as the waves smashed against our shins. I looked back at the house and noticed that we left the downstairs well illuminated for the boat to spot us. We waded out to the end of the dock, where the sand ended and rocks congregated. I thought the water would have been cooler than it was. It felt terrific. We saw the green and white lights bobbing in the deeper water waiting for us, so we started swimming out towards the escort boat. I was hoping I didn't swim into 'anything that went bump in the night,' aka Mr. Lamprey Eel.
I had trouble maintaining sight of the bow's red running light if I fell just behind it, so I did tell my crew and we moved a lightstick closer to it. With Karen on my left shoulder, and the boat on my right, I tried to swim parallel to the boat. A few times I heard, "left" and "too close," even with ear plugs. Turns out, the only thing I bumped into in that first half hour was Karen, my companion swimmer. I think we both screamed and apologized. Good thing I didn't have to bite her head off. This was a good practice of sensory deprivation, which initally was the root of some anxiety. I was able to tell who was who on the boat, because of their different colored life jackets and lightsticks. I kept a watchful eye on the boat's lights and the attached lightsticks when I breathed towards them. Every time I breathed to my left to spot Karen's lights, I hoped I wasn't swimming into the boat. I'm thankful I had a companion for my first night swim. Somewhere in the darkness I was able to see the "1 mi" sign that I had printed. Karen placed all of the signs (numbers, sayings, etc.) in clear, protective sheets, and sealed them with clear packaging tape. Laminating them was way too expensive and we're trying to save as much money as we can for the Channel trip. We learned that they also need to be sturdier, so we'll add a piece of cardboard to each one. They are portable and easy to pack, once placed in a 3-ring binder. The first feeding came around mile 1 to practice in the dark. Noah tossed in the TYR water bottle attached to kite string and I couldn't locate it. "Turn the spotlight on the bottle," someone said from the boat. Learning experience.
When we approached the US Gypsum crib in the dark, all I could really see was the bright red light on top. I couldn't see any of the wires or interesting objects on the bottom. The first time I ever swam to the US Gypsum crib in Tawas Bay, I was so proud. I climbed aboard the jet ski, my husband handed me a lifejacket to put on and then a seagull pooped on my face to welcome us. I have photos. This time I think we snuck past the sleeping seagulls. Karen stayed in the water for the first 90 minutes and then Noah hopped in, wearing his wetsuit. Once we got past the crib, I noticed the waves picked up and the boat was getting tossed like a salad. I even said to the crew, "if it's too wavy, we can turn around and swim to the other lighthouse and back." Lynn replied, "It's okay. Keep swimming." I could just start to see the faint reddish glow to the sky, which brought comfort. Noah swam a half hour and then he disappeared into the boat. He later said he was feeding the fish the entire half hour but wanted to serve his time in the water with me. I love him. And for the record, no lamprey eel sightings or touchings at that point.
The next few hours were a constant battle with four foot waves. I saw my husband wearing a blue hoodie with his head hung over the far side of the boat and knew he was seasick. I was later told it had rained three times on the crew and it was quite cloudy. Every feed I drank my energy mix and every other feed it seemed I was offered small amounts of something different. With every new mile card, I saw Lynn move to the stern. Classical conditioning was in effect and naturally my behavioral response was "Food is coming!" Every other feed she would reach out a metal basket on a long pole, holding a small green plastic cup, also attached to kite string. Twice I discovered diced peaches in heavy syrup, twice I was given a Peter Rabbit Organic fruit snack, a few Jellybelly SportBeans, once a few tiny Powerbar protein balls, once a tiny bite of Milky Way candy bar (turned that down), and once a hard boiled egg (turned that down faster than the candy). Breakfast and lunch in Lake Huron. I was asked to drink a half a water bottle at every feed and did note that while fighting the waves, fish are fed after every feed.
I remained in good spirits the entire swim, which is credit to my wonderful crew and family and the energy drink. I swam many hours by myself and just kept my head down. When someone on board said, "We can see Charity!" and asked "Can you see it?" I did a few forward sightings and responded, "I ONLY see a lot of water." I didn't waste any more time trying to spot it because all I could see were giant waves heading my way. I was too worried about how to learn to pee while swimming instead of wasting time during a feed. Several feeds I told jokes or commented that they should call ahead to Charity Island and make a swim-ahead reservation for table #5. When Lynn showed me the sign that said, "Great day for a swim," I saw nothing but cloudy skies and lifted my head and joked back, "Great day for a nap." Towards the end, I also told the crew to change that dinner reservation to a bed & breakfast. I also kept thinking about getting a carmel apple at the Village Chocolatier.
Finally at mile 13, I could see the Charity Island Lighthouse and a bunch of fishing vessels. Karen re-entered the water with me at mile 12 for a half hour and again when we had about a half mile to go. The clouds were starting to break-up and the rocky bottom was becoming more visable. One of the Coast Guard guys in Tawas told us that Charity Island was very rocky so I pictured big boulders. Once it was too shallow, the boat stayed in the deeper water while Karen and I swam as far as we could, which was about 75 yards from the shore. We had to do some shallow breaststroke pulls to glide over the rocks that our freestyle fingers were touching. Each of us hand selected a few rocks. I stuffed one in my suit and Karen jammed a few in her wetsuit to swim back to the boat. Finally I kneeled, then stood up slowly and we raised our hands in celebration of the successful swim. We swam back to the boat, showed them our rocks and exchanged hugs. I drank two bottles of water and had a piece of turkey after putting on a wool hat, neck gaiter, fleece shirt and pants for the swift boat ride back to the Tawas Bay Marina. Thank you, Lynn, Mark, Noah, and Karen and the people in the Tawas area for your support and kind words. I did later get that carmel apple. But I was too tired to eat it. This Saturday I think I'll take that dinner boat cruise to celebrate my birthday and enjoy the ride. Thank you for reading and please leave a comment. :)
p.s. Many people have said, "WHY?" I will leave you with this quote... "The more you do, the more you discover you can do, and the more you want to do." On this day, I swam 16 miles to Charity Island. Marathon swimming is a battle, the biggest test of human spirit I've come across in athletics. Every small victory yields further challenges.
Circumnavigating the US gypsum crib
Practice feeding system, July 4, 2011
Last July 4th, I attemped to swim from the Tawas Point Lighthouse (East Tawas, Mich.) to the former US Gypsum loading crib in Alabaster Township, just over six miles away, when seasickness caused me to stop. Yesterday, I retraced my strokes, with a boat and crew accompanying me, and reached the crib in three hours. Along the way, I swam through millions of Mayfly carcasses since there was a big hatch this week and tried not to think about it. At one point, I did yell, "I just ate a bug." Since the fish were gorging themselves on the flies, I was hoping my toes would be spared. My husband and aunt were both practicing launching water bottles to me and feeding me SportBeans or Peter Rabbit fruit snacks in a cup, tied to an extension pole. Before the first feed, I heard yelling and saw them waving to me from the boat. My husband yelled, "Swim back there and go get your water bottle." The water bottle and kite string retrieval system were waterborne. He said, "first time" as I retrieved it and handed it back to him. About an hour later, they switched jobs and my husband took the wheel and my aunt started waving at me to stop. I started treading and she was pointing to the water bottle and kite string, floating on the surface behind me. "Go get the water bottle and string," she said, after tossing them both in the water. I smiled. "First time," I replied.
I'm thankful we're practicing the logistics of the feedings before we fly overseas and grateful for the learning experiences. For the planned night swim next weekend, we may need a lightstick attached to the water bottle, as addition to my goggles and swim suit.
Once I reached the crib, the crew asked me to keep swimming and circumnavigate the crib and explore the nearby foundations of the former arial tramway that carried gypsum from the quary on US-23 out on the loading crib. I kept swimming but told my crew about all the wires and basket (that was cut loose) I was swimming over. The water temperature stayed between 62 and 63 degrees with sunny skies on the 6.6 mile swim.
Friday afternoon, I swam from the lake house to the crib and on my return trip, lightning forced my 5 mi swim to end at 4.64 miles. Saturday afternoon, I swam south towards the gypsum loading dock in Tawas City with a fellow masters swimming friend. With my husband on a jet ski next to us for safety, we swam over a dozen golf balls and several large fish. Take a look at the video and photos. Tomorrow I'll be swimming a 5k in the Detroit River at the "Motor City Mile
," to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I'm looking forward to sharing another fun swim with great teammates.